James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Friday, April 09, 2004

Little Bush of Horrors 3

Oh, where to start? Take a week or so off, and you find that the fetid swamp of Bushism has risen from hip deep to waist deep and that, as always these days, broadcast news outlets and the daily press have ignored most of the slime or are pretending that the stink choking our society really is the fragrance of a rose garden.

I’ll leave Condoleezza Rice alone, since you can’t turn around without bumping into someone who knows exactly how it went and how brilliant or false she was. I watched only a small part of her testimony before the Commission to Obfuscate on 9/11 and my sole observation is that it appeared to me that some members of the commission were more interested in thoughts of Dr. Rice’s physical attributes than in her words -- but that’s just an impression derived from a certain oiliness of demeanor that may be attributable to the presence of TV cameras or simply may be native to the commissioners in question.

So, in no particular order, here are a few things of which you may be unaware:

* The Labor Department’s Bushcheneyrove-inspired overtime pay theft is going to become the law of the land any day now.

That’s the scam under which millions of middle class employees will lose the right to overtime pay because they are “professionals” or “managers.” The purported reason for the rule changes is to assure that low-paid workers do get paid for overtime. But, as you may recall, as soon as the general outline of the rules was in place, the Labor Department began sending out information and conducting classes for employers on how to avoid paying overtime to those selfsame low-pay workers. Under Bushcheneyrove, no government agency may go unpoliticized.

Final drafts of the new pay rules were sent during the first week in April to the Office of Management and the Budget. The White House will decide when the rules become effective – a decision to be made, of course, on the basis of political expediency.

* The Federal Election Commission (FEC), another government body that has been thoroughly politicized by the present administration, is moving under severe pressure from the Republican National Committee to make it difficult, if not impossible, for nonprofit organizations to act as advocates on matters of public policy. Unfortunately, I didn’t pick up on this early enough. The period for public comment on the proposed new rules ended April 9, today as I write this.

The Bushies do not believe in free speech for the general population. Under the proposed FEC rules, any nonprofit or public interest organization that takes a public position on any matter of governmental policy could be reclassified as a political committee. That, in turn, would severely limit their ability to raise money and to communicate with their members and the public. They couldn’t, for example, take gifts from corporations, even incorporated nonprofit foundations, nor from unions, nor could they accept more than $5,000 a year from any individual. (Think in terms of Robert Redford and his gifts to environmental-protection organizations.)

So any group that criticizes the president or any member(s) of Congress for positions on, say, civil rights, poverty programs, education (as in school vouchers), disease research funding or poverty programs could be reclassified and, essentially, put out of business.

The idea, obviously, is to silence criticism of the Bushcheneyrove administration and the right-wingers in Congress.

But this is one time when, if they get their way, the rightists might be maiming themselves as well as their foes. The proposed rules would hit the advocates of gun proliferation just as hard as those who fight for gun control, for example. Pat Robertson’s organization could be punished for issuing its “report cards” on members of Congress (religious organizations are so far not exempt from the rules as written) and anti-abortion organizations would be as vulnerable as feminist groups.

As proposed, the new rules would apply to all types of communications, including ads, mailings to members, telephone trees, email campaigns, posters – literally all communications other than one-to-one conversation.

A public hearing is scheduled for April 14 and 15, and the FEC apparently intends to make a decision on the proposed rules by the middle of May. The rules could become effective as early as July – thus stifling public debate during the presidential campaign.

It’s hard to believe that the rules will be put into place. The National Rifle Association, right-wing Christian organizations and many more outfits that the Bushies need would be hit hard. And even our sleepwalking press probably would notice if the rules are applied only to liberal-leaning organizations. It’s also hard to see how the FEC could rewrite the rules to leave rightist organizations untouched while still getting at the perceived enemies of the extreme right.

Still, the Bushies are nothing if not arrogant, they have tamed a sizeable portion of the judicial branch of government, and no one can say that rational thought is a necessary component of all their actions. Hell, it’s possible that Dubya has never in his life had a rational thought.

Stay tuned.

* In 2000, as a candidate, G. W. Bush, said he would stand up and fight OPEC if gas prices rose too high or too rapidly. A president, he said, “ought to get on the phone with the OPEC cartel and say, “We expect you to open your spigots.’”

As nominal president, G.W. Bush ain’t saying “boo” to OPEC or anybody else in the oil biz – his biz. Any person who actually expected him to do something must not be aware of the close personal ties between the House of Bush and the House of Saud, nor of the fact that the oil industry has contributed more than $3 million to his political coffers since 2000.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

This should scare you silly

I took a couple of weeks off from writing, and have returned with, and to, stacks of horrors, mostly oozing from the Bush White House, but some also creeping from the Minnesota State Capitol and other seats of power now under occupation by right wing extremists.

To begin, a little quiz:

What are Kroll, Inc., Custer Battles, Global Risks Strategies, Armor-Group and Blackwater USA?

The last name in that list may ring a bell with those who follow the news carefully. It was mentioned now and then, though not as frequently nor as prominently as it should have been, for a few days following March 31.

Was that enough of a hint?

Blackwater is the private army that employed the four men whose bodies were mutilated after they were killed in an ambush in Fallujah, Iraq, March 31.

It is impossible to find such treatment anything but horrifying. At the same time, it is unconscionable that all initial reports of the event described the four men merely as “civilians” and that most reporting agencies have continued to describe them in that way, with no real explanation of who they really were or what their jobs were.

Bluntly, they were mercenary soldiers, soldiers of fortune, hired guns. They were members of an army-for-hire of unknown size but probably numbering upward of 3,000 by now. There are tens of thousands of men under arms in such outfits around the world. There are several thousand in Iraq. They are not “security” people in the sense that most of us recognize the term. They are, for the most part, better equipped and better armed than the U.S. military. Their Humvees have full armor; that’s not always true of the vehicles our troops use (see the essay below).

Most of the hired guns are former military people, often former rangers, Navy Seals and such, who have received still more combat training at the private armies’ own facilities. Blackwater’s training facility in North Carolina is so well set up that Navy Seals and many police agencies regularly use it for training – for a price, of course. It trains on heavy weapons as well as light.

The mercenaries come from all over the world; the man who heads the unit to which the four men killed in Fallujah belonged is a Scot. Global Risks Strategies is a British-owned company that has troops from Fiji in Iraq. There is at least one South African company (guess at the backgrounds of those troops) also in Iraq.

All of the companies named above are operators of private armies, just five of what the New York Times says are “dozens, perhaps hundreds of private military concerns around the world.” The new “industry” got started soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when many countries started cutting their military forces and displaced pro soldiers went looking for work. It has grown like a deadly cancer since the invasion of Iraq. Various sources say that more than 15,000 guns-for-hire are working in Iraq, employed by as many as 24 private armies that have been hired by corporations and, yes, the U.S. government. The Fijians have been used to guard shipments of new Iraqi currency within the country and for other assignments.

The move to replace government troops with hirelings is frightening from several points of view.

There are several reasons the Bush White House may favor mercenaries over legitimate U.S. troops: For one thing, news coverage of the hired guns is almost nonexistent. There are no parents, spouses, siblings demanding news of their loved ones, or complaining about lack of proper equipment and the length of rotations in Iraq. No one is reporting on what the soldiers of fortune are doing, or how they’re doing it, and being private, they don't have to answer if anyone does ask them questions. Are they brutalizing Iraqi civilians? Who would know?

It is a fact that the Bushies work at a level of secrecy never before seen in our government; use of private armies allows them to maintain an unprecedented level of silence in some areas.

Probably equally important is the fact that the Bushies – all of the ultra-right mobs that now control our government, in fact – despise government bureaucracies. That hatred comes not from any inefficiencies among bureaucrats, as they would have you believe, but because the bureaucracy does not readily lend itself to soldiering on behalf of the right wing agenda. The people in the White House and the House of Representatives believe that every single piece and person in government should be dedicated to their program or should go. Civil servants can’t be counted on to fight for the extreme right, therefore the civil service should be destroyed. (That program is on paper.) The military, though more amenable to extremism than most other government agencies, is nevertheless beholden to some degree to Congress and the American people, and not just the Republican leadership.

Also, the use of private soldiers fits with the strategy of using Halliburton and other companies to provide services that in all previous wars, the American military provided for itself – and damned efficiently, thank you. Using private companies to do work the military used to do for itself costs us much more, of course, but it provides huge profits for Bushy-favored businesses as well as taking the activities beyond the vision of most oversight agencies and the press. We know that some of those profits move to Republican campaign coffers.

Speaking of costs: Several sources say the soldiers of fortune generally make upward of $100,000 a year, with many drawing much bigger paychecks. An untold number of them have been lured from our own military by the big money. We’re paying people big bucks to recruit our best-trained soldiers from our military. This is building the nation’s security? It’s cost effective how?

But here’s the piece that has cost me sleep of late: Private armies, mercenaries, owe no allegiance to anybody other than the paymaster. Whoever pays them commands them.

Match that thought with an assessment of people who hire themselves out to kill, which is what the mercenaries have agreed to do. They’re not, any longer, soldiers sworn to protect their people or their countries. They fight for money, for anybody who pays. Period.

I do not like the thought of people like G.W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld and the rest of that crew commanding thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of mercenary troops..